In summary

Tesla’s Musk likely to get away with flouting shutdown order. Are the right people getting coronavirus tests? Seven counties get OK to reopen dine-in restaurants.

Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, May 13.

State, county reluctant to strictly enforce orders

Teslas lined up at the Tesla Motors complex in Fremont in 2016. Photo by LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group

Well, it doesn’t look as though Elon Musk is going to be arrested — or face any type of retribution — for reopening his Tesla factory in Fremont against Alameda County orders, raising questions about how meaningful those orders really are.

The showdown is particularly thorny for Gov. Gavin Newsom. If he supports the county, he risks alienating Musk, a celebrity billionaire whose company brought 10,000 manufacturing jobs to a state otherwise lacking in them — and who already threatened to move Tesla to Nevada or Texas. By the same token, he risks painting California as a business-unfriendly state. But if he supports Musk, he risks implying that the shelter-in-place orders don’t have to be taken seriously.

President Donald Trump has already taken sides. “California should let Tesla and Elon Musk open the plant, NOW,” he tweeted Tuesday.

Newsom on Monday attempted to walk a middle line.

  • Newsom: “As it relates to Tesla … I have great reverence for their technology, for their innovative spirit, for their leadership, and I have great expectations that we can work through — at the county level — the issue with this particular county and this company in the next couple of days.” 

It isn’t Newsom that Musk is frustrated with — it’s Alameda County, which has stricter orders than the state and hasn’t yet allowed manufacturers to reopen, though California did on Friday

After Tesla sued the county over the weekend, Musk announced Monday that he was reopening the Fremont factory. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he tweeted.

But Fremont police said Tuesday they don’t plan to make any arrests or issue citations. And the extent of the county’s response earlier Tuesday was to send Tesla a letter ordering it to stop manufacturing.

  • Fremont Councilman Vinnie Bacon: “We are the enforcement agency, but as of now, they are negotiating, so we’re basically hoping those negotiations go well. So we’re not stepping in at this point.”

Newsom also seems reluctant to strictly enforce orders: “We will continue to work as collaborative (sic) as possible” with businesses that reopen too early, he said Monday.

Update: Late Tuesday evening, the Alameda County Public Health Department said Tesla could possibly reopen and resume full manufacturing as early as next week if it incorporates several additional safety updates into its site-specific plan. Unclear, however, is whether Tesla plans to cease manufacturing in the meantime.

Meanwhile, state regulators want emergency powers to shut down bars and restaurants reopening for dine-in service without authorization. And 60 businesses in Los Angeles are facing criminal misdemeanor charges for reopening too early.

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The Bottom Line: As of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, California had 71,046 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,882 deaths from the virus, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker. (These numbers are different from those of the state Department of Public Health, which are updated less often.)

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

Other stories you should know

1. Seven counties approved to reopen dine-in restaurants

Bowl’d general manager Ruben Hernandez processes takeout orders in the Oakland Korean BBQ restaurant’s empty dining room on March 16. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Newsom announced Tuesday that more businesses are now eligible to reopen with modifications statewide, including outdoor museums (yeah, I’m not really sure what those are, either), car washes and pet groomers.

In counties that get approval, strip and outlet malls can also reopen for curbside pickup and dine-in restaurants can open their doors — as long as tables are kept 6 feet apart and a host of other modifications are implemented. Diners will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering and are encouraged to wear face coverings when not eating or drinking. Restaurants will have to provide disposable menus and cannot pre-set tables with napkins, cutlery and dishes. Condiment bottles and salt and pepper shakers are also banned. Tablecloths and napkins will be removed after each use in sealed bags. And if possible, windows will be kept open to increase ventilation.

So far, Amador, Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta counties have been approved to reopen dine-in restaurants.

2. CA is rapidly expanding coronavirus tests. But who’s getting tested?

A patient at the Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Riverside is evacuated to a waiting ambulance on April 8. Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG

Although California is now averaging about 35,000 coronavirus tests per day among the general public, with a goal of nearly doubling that daily rate, some experts say the state doesn’t have the right testing priorities, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov and Ana Ibarra report.

  • Dr. Merhdad Ayati, a geriatrician at Stanford University’s School of Medicine: “It’s the wrong population that they’re focusing on. When you see the mortality rates around the world, the population that we need to do massive testing in is residents and workers in skilled nursing facilities.”

Indeed, around 40% of California’s COVID-19 deaths have been nursing home residents or workers. And while several states have promised coronavirus testing for every nursing home resident and worker, California is still two weeks away from being able to do so, Newsom said Tuesday.

3. CA lawmakers introduce unprecedented proposals to handle missed rent and mortgage payments

Renters and landlords alike are looking for financial relief. Image via iStock

As missed rent and mortgage payments pile up across California, state Democratic lawmakers Tuesday introduced two proposals that represent unprecedented government intervention into the state’s housing and consumer debt markets, CalMatters’ Matt Levin reports.

  • One plan from Senate leader Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, would grant qualifying renters 10 years to repay missed payments and compensate landlords with tax credits that could be sold to pay mortgages and other bills.
  • Another plan from Assemblywoman Monique Limon, a Santa Barbara Democrat, would allow homeowners to postpone mortgage payments for nearly a year. Those with auto loans, payday loans and other debts might also postpone payments without immediate penalties.

Landlord and tenant groups greeted the proposals with tepid enthusiasm, awaiting more details. Meanwhile, the California Credit Union League called Limon’s bill a “financial disaster” for its members.

4. CA holds first two special elections amid pandemic: a swing seat in Congress and one in the state Senate

California held its first two major elections amid the pandemic Tuesday, although we won’t know the final tally until at least Friday, partly because the elections were held almost entirely by mail. A lot of national attention is focused on whether Republicans can win back a Congressional seat that Democrats took in 2018. And in the special election for a vacant state Senate office, Republicans are hoping to maintain a seat that is trending Democrat.

Here are the preliminary results:

  • In CD25:
    • Mike Garcia (R): 56%
    • Christy Smith (D): 44%
  • In SD28:
    • Melissa Melendez (R): 55.9%
    • Elizabeth Romero (D): 44.1%

CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A pot of special state school aid was supposed to be used to close the “achievement gap” but has often been diverted to other purposes. A new bill aims to close one loophole.

Lifelong learning loss: The cut in funding for California public schools due to COVID-19 will cause irreparable harm to our children and our state. Students’ learning losses will likely persist throughout their lifetimes, write Austin Beutner, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cindy Marten, superintendent of San Diego Unified School District.

Positive potential of contact tracing: Rather than creating more barriers to data sharing, California should embrace the appropriate use of data to provide insights and better outcomes for residents while ensuring no one is harmed, argues Gary Mangiofico, executive professor of organizational theory and management at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School.

California’s river systems destroyed for profit: California’s water policy is literally killing the Trinity River, as well as the lower Klamath River in neighboring Humboldt County, argues Richard Cole, a Lewiston resident.

Other things worth your time

The California State University system plans to hold its fall semester almost entirely online. // EdSource

Los Angeles County officials say some local stay-at-home orders could last into July. // The Los Angeles Times

Most Californians are still uncomfortable at the idea of dining out soon, poll shows. // The Mercury News

Twitter says most of its employees can continue to work from home forever, raising questions about the future of work in California. // The Mercury News

Federal judge blocks Trump administration’s plan to pump more supplies through San Joaquin River Delta. // The Sacramento Bee  

University of California President submits plan to end use of SAT in admissions. // The Associated Press

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See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...